THE world went into lockdown in the battle against Covid-19 shortly after Alaya F made a successful acting debut with 2020 comedy-drama Jawaani Jaaneman.
But the young talent powered through the pandemic by working on diverse projects, including her acclaimed second film Freddy and Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat, which is set to be released on Friday (3).
The 25-year-old stars opposite debutante Karan Mehta in the Anurag Kashyap-directed contemporary romance. The in-demand actress has further films on the way including Sri and U-Turn, which means there will be a lot more on offer from the exciting newcomer who brings fresh energy to Bollywood.
Eastern Eye caught up with the rising star to discuss her impactful beginning, latest film, future hopes, acting, finding strength in fear and best advice she got from her legendary grandfather Kabir Bedi.
The world was locked down shortly after your debut film was released. How would you describe that journey?
I think post lockdown, any semblance of a formula went out the window, because suddenly we’re finding ourselves in an industry that’s so different, where everyone is trying to understand new trends, what is working and what’s not. So, it’s been weird but exciting. I’m a strong believer that everything happens for a reason, and I am happy with where I’m at now – three years into my career, but only two films old. I feel my career is finally starting now. So, my first few years have been unique, testing, interesting and full of growth and learning.
Is it a coincidence that you have selected projects that are dramatically different from one another?
I have very intentionally tried to do that because I don’t want to get stuck in a certain type of film. It’s too early in my career for that. More than that, I think there are wonderful roles being written for women now, and great scripts with interesting subjects out there. I’ve been very fortunate that they have come my way. I wanted to do films in different genres, and luckily those opportunities have come to me. I hope to continue doing that. The best part about the job is that you don’t have to restrict yourself unless you want to.
Tell us a little about the experience of working on your recent film Freddy?
It was amazing. I’ve been having unique experiences that I probably wouldn’t have anticipated. I was shooting for U-Turn on a long 45-day schedule in Chandigarh when I got Freddy. I returned from Chandigarh and was supposed to be on the sets of Freddy the next day, so had no prep time whatsoever.
You were brilliant in the film…
Thank you. I sort of just threw myself into it because it was a great opportunity. I was like, let’s just go for it and do my best. And that’s what I did. I was just surrounded by the most amazing, talented, wonderful, warm, supportive people. They really helped me find the character and my place in the story. Now when I watch it, it’s something I’m so proud of. Luckily for me, I feel that way about every film I’ve done so far. The rest you’re going to see soon.
Tell us about your new film Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat?
Almost Pyaar was supposed to be my first film. I had signed it before Jawaani Jaaneman. It just so happened that it took us over four years to make. So now it’s coming out as my third film. That’s why Almost Pyaar is incredibly special to me. It really has been a labour of love. Everyone has just put their heart and soul into the film. It gave me a lot of belief – it made me realise I can get a film and someone like Anurag (Kashyap) sir believing in me, gives you a different level of confidence.
Tell us about the story and your character in the film?
There’s not much that I want to say yet because I feel like the film should speak for itself. I don’t think I should tell you about the character, because it will spoil a lot of it. So, on Friday (3), you must watch it, and then I should talk after it’s out.
What is your favourite moment from the making of the film?
It was at the shooting in Dalhousie, for one really important scene. All through the shooting, I was dreading it because it was very difficult. On the day we were supposed to do this scene, the weather was terrible, and we had literally two takes to get it right. It was a high-pressure moment on an incredibly difficult scene. I did the monologue once and the camera didn’t even cut. Anurag sir said, ‘Do it once more’. I remember the second Anurag sir called cut and him jumping up excitedly with joy. He gave me a hug and said, ‘I’ve got my film.’ Everyone on the set was just so elated. It was one of those moments as an actor, you feel so proud of yourself just by seeing how happy you’ve managed to make everyone working on this film. So that’s an incredibly special moment to me.
What can we expect from your forthcoming film U-Turn?
You can expect a lot of thrills. U-Turn is a gripping film. I think everyone’s going to be on the edge of their seat. I feel like every film I’ve done has been such a labour of love with all these people just really wanting to make it be the best it can be. And U-Turn is definitely one of those. I think it’s really going to entertain and thrill people. I’m really looking forward to everyone seeing it.
What did you like about your forthcoming film Sri, which is about visually impaired industrialist Srikanth Bolla?
I just thought the story was so inspirational. He has had such an incredible life. And he’s also very young. Inspiring biopics is a genre I love to watch. They always get me so motivated and emotional. So, I really wanted to be a part of a story like that and had to jump on to it.
What kind of projects do you want to do in the future?
Luckily for me, I’m getting varied and versatile projects. All my films are so different from each other. I’ve been very fortunate with projects I’ve been getting and want to continue that. I want to keep dabbling in different genres and experimenting with different roles, and just constantly learning and growing. I feel like I have just so much hunger in me, so much to prove, and so much to do. I sort of want to do everything.
Do you have a dream role you would like to play?
I don’t even know what my dream role would be. I don’t do anything unless I have conviction in it. So, I feel like every project I’ve gotten, for me was a dream role, and something I really wanted to do. I’m so grateful those roles were offered to me.
Can you see yourself doing projects in the West?
Yes, 100 per cent. I want to do projects everywhere. I want to do all sorts of cinema and work with all sorts of different people. There’s nothing better than being able to expand your reach to different parts of the world. I studied in America. So, I actually studied a very different school of acting, which was primarily in English. That’s where I got my base of acting from, so I would definitely want to put that to use.
What is the best advice your legendary grandfather Kabir Bedi has given you?
I think probably just how important being professional and sticking to your word is, and not letting people down by being unprofessional. That’s one thing he kept saying to me, and something I’ve always upheld. I’ve always gone out of my way to be as professional as I can. When I leave a set, I want everyone smiling. I want to treat everyone with kindness and want them to have a great day when they’re working with me. A lot of that comes from the general advice that my nana (grandfather) gave me about being professional.
Tell us something about you that not many people know?
(Laughs) I talk so much that I think everyone knows everything about me. I feel like there are things people assume about me that aren’t entirely true, like I was always a good dancer, because I post dance videos on Instagram, but that’s far from the truth. I was a miserable dancer. It was a lot of work. I still can’t dance at parties or freestyle. I can only choreograph dance. Another misconception people have is that I’m supremely extroverted. I’m actually very socially awkward and a huge over thinker.
Would you consider yourself fearless?
Absolutely not. I have many moments of fear and anxiety. I feel like fear is not necessarily bad or something to be scared of, because it sort of .gives meaning. Like, if I’m doing really well, I’m scared that one day, all of this won’t be there, which just leads me to work harder and be more consistent. The fear of losing people makes you be in touch with them and treat them with kindness. I think it’s how you deal with fear. It can teach you a lot. I do have confidence and am good at overcoming fears. I’ve learned a lot about myself through the process of that. I’m definitely not fearless, but great at dealing with fear and am confident. (Laughs) But all this being said I cannot watch scary or horror movies.
What is it that you love the most about acting?
There is a moment of complete peace between action and cut. It’s meditative in a lot of ways because you have to just be so present in the moment and ready to deliver what you’re supposed to. Normally there are 1,000 thoughts running through my head, but that’s the moment where the least number of thoughts are running through my head and it’s complete peace. I don’t know how to explain it. That makes me love acting.
Finally, why do you love cinema?
If we’re talking just about watching and consuming cinema, it just transports you to a different world. You get to see new people, a different way of life and something relatable, including emotions. Yeah, I love everything about cinema. What’s there not to love?